Doubtful on the wisdom of a shift to 'functional' skills

23rd April 2010 at 01:00

Awareness of literacy and numeracy qualifications for adults is at an all-time high as employers, further education and higher education institutions specify these as the standard for work and further study.

Why, as soon as something becomes embedded and successful, does someone in government decide to change it? ("New numeracy and literacy plan makes adults `invisible'", April 9.) The replacement of these Skills for Life qualifications with functional skills will bemuse, which will result in fewer adults taking up literacy and numeracy programmes.

At City of Sunderland, we implemented a whole-college approach to literacy and numeracy and were recently awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for our work. The focus on individualised programmes for learners who do not have a level 2 qualification in this area has resulted in huge successes, with key skills achievement at 81 per cent in 2008-09, a rise of 40 per cent from 2006-07 and improved progression routes for young people and adults. The move to Functional Skills and removal of Skills for Life literacy and numeracy qualifications is a backward step.

Functional Skills may be an appropriate replacement for Key Skills, but you cannot teach young people to problem-solve if they lack basic mathematical concepts. Our Skills for Life strategy has enabled students of all ages to develop these concepts, giving them the ability to apply their knowledge. Removal of the ability to deliver and accredit skills for life will result in poor functional skills achievement and a continual reinforcement of failure.

If Functional Skills replaces literacy and numeracy qualifications for adults in 2012 as predicted, it could destroy one of the most successful education strategies of all time. Anecdotally, online testing is being ditched by awarding bodies as too difficult, and adds time and cost to an area where funding is being cut. Who will explain to employers, universities and the general public exactly what a functional skill is?

This is more government interference in the curriculum. When will politicians leave alone programmes that are working?

Angela O'Donoghue, Principal, City of Sunderland College.

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